Star Nurse Spotlights: Compassion, helping those in need and more

The Washington Post in conjunction with the American Nurses Association would like to shine a light on our 2021 Star Nurses. Nominated by patients and peers, and then selected from among hundreds of nominees, these women and men, working on the front lines of health care in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, represent the epitome of skill, professionalism and care. As a part of the recognition of the 2021 Star Nurses we will spotlight nurses 3 days per week leading up to the virtual ceremony where six Nightingale Award winners will be announced on May 26th.

Caroline Sutter – George Mason University/MAP Clinic


Caroline Sutter 2021 Headshot

Caroline came to the nursing profession drawn by the prospect of being part of a team “helping people who need us the most.” She certainly found patients in need in her first job—on the pediatric burn unit at Children’s National. It is no doubt where she developed the personal touch she has since perfected: “No matter how hard the day is, kindness always matters.”

A graduate of George Mason University and a veteran of 27 years in the field, Caroline sees compassion and resilience as the most important characteristics of a good nurse. Compassion is in her nature, but resilience can be hard to come by for any nurse.

“The general public doesn’t understand how short-staffed most medical facilities are,” she points out. Nor does the public realize the extent of paperwork and documentation that takes up a good part of the day, an eight-to-ten hour shift in Caroline’s case.

But nurses are integral to their patients’ overall health, says the Springfield, Va., resident. And that brings Caroline back to the desire that launched her career years ago: “Helping those who need me the most.” That’s the best part of nursing, she says.

Mariah Eichelberger – Fairfax County Health Department


Mariah Eichelberger 2021 Headshot

Mariah, a Burke, Va., resident and a nurse of four years’ standing, defines the profession simply: Nursing is caring. The University of Maryland School of Nursing graduate, who began her career as a pediatric transplant nurse at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, finds compassion to be the single most important characteristic of a good nurse.

Most anyone would find that claim to be true. What many people might not know, Mariah says, is how broad the field of nursing is. “The numerous career paths in nursing,” she says, “hold many opportunities for anyone joining the field today.”


MaryAnn Patricio – Inova Fairfax Medical Campus


MaryAnn Patricio 2021 Headshot

Twelve years later, MaryAnn is still working in the operating room where her career began.

“The operating room is a field that I love,” MaryAnn says, “because I thrive off of teamwork. The multidisciplinary team I work with day in and day out do nothing but support me and make me the nurse that I am today.”

MaryAnn is an orthopedic trauma specialist. Every element of the OR exhilarates her, she says, from the technology to the patients to the power tools.

“The absolute number one thing that tops my list,” she says, “is my team. The surgeons, service line leaders, other nurses, surgical techs and anesthetists that I work with are the best part of my day. We have bonded over seeing trauma, day in and day out. We are a family that supports each other because of the trust we have built. Because of that, we are able to accomplish great things every day.

“Seeing everyone pull their weight and watching our plan come to fruition fuels me with the energy I need to pull through 12-hour days, case after case.”

She points out, “When people have surgery, it is a life-altering day in their life. It is my job to establish their trust and become their advocate when they are under anesthesia. I want to take the burden of their life altering-day and ensure everything runs smoothly and efficiently during their surgery.”

MaryAnn, who is an Old Dominion University graduate and who resides in Springfield, Va.,

was drawn to nursing because, as she says, she is a life-long learner. “Nursing creates so many possibilities for learning new things, and I love constantly growing and evolving as a nurse and as a person,” she says.

What really sets her apart is that “I am a ball of energy. So it is no surprise that I am extremely outgoing.” She points out that OR nurses don’t get a lot of time to spend with the patients while they are awake. “So when I introduce myself, I make sure the patients and their families will remember who I am with my upbeat personality.”

MaryAnn says there is a question every patient should ask the OR nurse before going under anesthesia: “Can you hold my hand while I am falling asleep?”

As she says simply, “Nursing is powerful.”


Emily Comstock – Baltimore VA Medical Center


Emily Comstock 2021 Headshot

Emily has earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins, Duke and the University of Maryland (expected in May). She lives in Baltimore and has been a nurse for seven years. She has been an infectious disease specialist since her first role in clinical research as a nurse coordinator for the Institute of Human Virology.

Emily was drawn to nursing and her specialty for “the inherent prioritization of the human connection.” In her current role, that translates to having “the ability to individually connect with my patients to try to make a difference in their lives, while also working to improve population level health.”

But keeping connected can be difficult in today’s covid era, Emily points out. “Ensuring that our patients feel supported and taken care of, which can be even more challenging with increased reliance on telehealth/virtual care and social distancing,” has been a challenge, she says, particularly for older patients who may not be as comfortable with or have access to technology.

To help them cope, she encourages them to prioritize things that bring them joy. As she herself says, “Nursing is compassion.”


George Sweat – Fairfax County Health Department

RN, Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)

George Sweat 2021 Headshot

George believes the most important question a patient can ask the nurse is, “What should I do to never return to the hospital again?” He believes the answer lies in wellness.

“Be emotionally and spiritually fit,” he counsels. “Taking a moment to think and reflect does wonders in setting the stage for success. Meditation. Centering. Be less concerned about the world.”

The pandemic has put such mindfulness to the test for patients and nurses alike. Personally, “The inability to unite families during the difficult isolation caused by covid” has been George’s biggest challenge. Even through such difficulty, George maintains pride in his work at every moment. “The best is always on display,” he promises.

George, who lives in Springfield, Va., has been a nurse for 11 years. He studied at Grand Canyon University and his first job was as a medical-surgical nurse for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Reno, Nev.

“The best part of nursing is emergency care,” he says. “Emergency nurses never stop.”


Zena Ngunge – Adventist Healthcare-Shady Grove Medical Center


Zena Ngunge 2021 Headshot

“Why did you become a nurse?” That is a question Zena thinks every patient should ask their nurse. The answers may be as inspiring as Zena’s.

“I admired nurses when I was young, at the age of 6,” she says. “When I saw the nurses carrying the tray with medication to give to the patients and seeing them changing wound dressings, it always captivated my heart. It got me thinking that one day I want to do what they are doing. I couldn't wait to be like them one day. Nursing is the only career path I have dreamt about.”

Zena’s first job in nursing was as an assistant charge nurse in the pediatric unit at Muhimbili Medical Center in Tanzania. She studied at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center-Tanzania and later at Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Today she lives in Gaithersburg, Md., and has been a nurse for 29 years.

The best part about nursing, she says, “is to have an opportunity to touch people’s lives, taking care of very sick patients and being their advocate.” She adds that the values of the organization where she works align with her faith.

“Today, being a nurse,” Zena says, “I am delighted, grateful and content. To me, this is a dream come true.”


Henry Boyd – Sibley Memorial Hospital


Henry Body 2021 Headshot

The most important thing people can do to improve their overall health, Henry believes, is to “Listen to the advice your medical professionals give you. It’s for a reason,” he points out. “You don’t ask a car mechanic to do your surgery and you don’t ask a doctor to work on your car. Listen to the professional.”

Henry himself is a 24-year veteran of the nursing profession. He studied at the University of the District of Columbia and lives in the District. He was compelled by the AIDS/HIV epidemic to pivot from his job as a flight attendant years ago and take up the study of nursing.

The long hours and, with current covid issues, the wearing of personal protection equipment for 12-hour shifts is exhausting, Henry says. Still, Henry lets his personality shine at work through laughter and a sense of humor.

And he has a tip for helping your nurse, or any nurse, through the shift: Always ask her or him, “How is your day going?”

Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor

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